ANALYSIS: African carriers battle to fulfil potential

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For many of Africa’s carriers 2013 represented some financial progress, but the pressures remain clear.

Collective profits for those African carriers among the top 150 airlines to have reported 2013 figures, shows a return to small profit at both a net and operating level after losses in 2012.

This was off the back of revenues for 11 carriers of $13.8 billion, up just 2% on the previous year. The improved bottom line ­performance owed a lot to the cutting of losses at Kenya Airways and TAAG Angola Airlines, as well as improved profits at Ethiopian. The figure do not include EgyptAir and South African Airways, both of which have endured difficult recent years.

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It underlines that despite the undoubted potential of the region, it remains something of a mixed picture for the continent’s carriers.

Fast-growing Ethiopian Airlines enjoyed steady growth in reaching an operating profit of $155 million, almost treble the previous year. Kenya Airways was able to cut its losses in 2013, but still ended in the red for a second consecutive year.

The SkyTeam carrier has though now joined Ethiopian in operating Boeing 787s, in another sign of an improving product at the region’s carriers.

While European and Gulf carriers continue to take a large chunk of the long-haul market in and out of Africa, low-cost operators have so far made only limited progress in the highly fragmented continent.

Though the model is already established in South Africa, it remains a work in progress elsewhere. Fastjet, while retaining pan-African ambition, is so far focused on Tanzania. Kenya Airways meanwhile has now launched its low-cost unit, Jambo Jet.